The Secret Meaning Behind Ratatouille: Unconscious & Conscious Wills (Part One)


Say what?!

The Disney-Pixar children’s film Ratatouille (2007) may seem like an unlikely place to drop hidden depth psychology metaphors, but I assure you, they exist.  In spades, too.

If you’ve never seen the film, consider this your stopping point.  You’ll definitely need to have seen it once or twice to follow what I’m about to outline.  It’s a good film, highly enjoyable, with a well regarded 8.0/10 on IMDB and a Rotten Tomato score of 96%.

First, let’s outline the characters.  Again, this is assuming you’ve seen the movie.


Our protagonist, Remy, is a dark grey rat who lives “in the shadows” with his family of hundreds of other rats.  Naturally, the rats live as one big colony and work together in finding food and shelter.  Remy has an unusually helpful knack of being able to smell out poisoned food, which serves the colony.  More importantly, he has a love and appreciation for food that most humans don’t even possess.  Early on, Remy is accidentally separated from his colony and forced to venture up from the sewers to explore the city world around him.


To say this rat is passionate about food would be a gross understatement.  He has more than found his bliss.


Then we have Linguini, our protagonist number two.  Hopefully you may be seeing where this is going, considering you’ve viewed the film; Linguini acts as the conscious in this cute fable (or does he? We’ll explore).  Linguini is clumsy, irresponsible (having been fired from many jobs before he even arrives at Chef Gusteau’s kitchen), anxious, and completely unsure of himself.  Although he is in possession of these all too human flaws, he’s very friendly and good-natured.

auguste gusteau

Next, we have Chef Gusteau (mentioned above) — the disembodied guiding force behind Remy discovering his restaurant.  Gusteau continually assures him that, “Anyone can cook.” This mantra, repeated often, is a key motivator in Remy’s taking charge of an ill-fated situation that the conscious (Linguini) gets them into.  This happens when Linguini decides to add ingredients haphazardly to a soup that is cooking in the kitchen — during the dinner rush!  Indeed, it is Chef Gusteau who initiates and inspires their entire foray into greatness.


What story would we have without an antagonist?  Meet Chef Skinner, a psychology reference too obvious to ignore.  As the former sous-chef to Gusteau when he was alive, he was charged with taking over the restaurant.  He dominates and rampages through the kitchen like an angry little tornado.  Skinner berates and belittles his staff without regard to their collective failing reputation; instead choosing to “sell out” and hawk cheap, mass produced TV dinners bearing Gusteau’s once good name.


Then, we have Colette, the fiery and highly competitive chef who found herself working in Gusteau’s kitchen through hard work and determination.  She has mastered her profession with tenacity alone.  While she initially intimidates and chastises Linguini for his careless approach to work, we soon see a softer side to Colette.  As she begins to help and mentor him, we see that she is actually a very warm and engaging person… once you get to know her.  And Linguini does.  Henceforth blossoms a charming and sweet relationship between the two.


Last, but certainly not least, we meet Anton Ego.  Again, a blatant reference to the psychological underpinnings of the film.  Anton has a highly refined palette that pairs well with his pompous air.  Incidentally, he was also the food critic who single-handedly effected the beginning of the end of Chef Gusteau’s career.  After Anton’s scathing review of the restaurant, Chef Gusteau, crushed and disenchanted by his fall from grace, dies.

Okay, now that we’ve outlined the characters and what their part is in the film, let’s address the obvious.  The kitchen is the metaphor for life — the kitchen is life in the most primordial sense, because out of the kitchen comes life-sustaining food.  It’s the stage on which we make music, on which we create something more.  The shadowed office and closets off to the side of the kitchen could be considered the recesses or back alley ways of life.  It is of note that every time Skinner enters his office, his blinds are shut so that no one in the kitchen (stage of life) can see him or what he’s doing.

rat3 copy


Only when they realize that they need each other, does the magic start to happen.

Initially, I believed the fable was representing the Unconscious (Remy) and the Conscious (Linguini) minds as they relate to art, awareness, and inspiration.  Remy is kept hidden, under Linguini’s hat, and only they communicate with each other in a way that allows Remy to cook and Linguini to “appear human,” in his own words.  Indeed, Remy is the inspired, raw talent.  On his journey, there is no question, no doubt, that his art is true and pure.  He just connects — to what, we may ask?  The divine?  The collective?  Chef Gusteau follows and guides him, apparently from the spirit world… as Remy remarks several times that, “You’re dead!”  Gusteau aptly responds that he is but a figment of Remy’s imagination.  So, as the Unconscious connects to the imagination, to the expanse, we find greatness.

If only it were that simple.  You see, in writing this piece, I slowly began to realize there is a far more complex parable to interpret here.  In digging deeper into depth psychology, I recognized the model of the psyche proposed by Jung can be found… here.  In this children’s film.  How amazing.  We have:

-The Ego: Anton Ego

-The Persona: Linguini

-The Shadow: Skinner

-The Anima/Animus: Colette

-The Self: Remy

Although we can distill the first explanation from the interaction of the two main characters, this is really about all of the characters who make up the story and make it come to life.  This isn’t just a story about a rat, this is a story about everyone.  I do believe both interpretations can apply.  However, in the second part of this post, I will explore, in detail, how the latter (model of the psyche) is more crystallized.  To be continued…

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The Over-Identification with the Death of Celebrities

Muhammad Ali

USA. Chicago 1966. Muhammad Ali, boxing world heavy weight champion showing off his right fist. © Thomas Hoepker / Magnum Photos

With the very recent passing of boxing champion Muhammad Ali, and not long before, the sudden passing of the musician/visionary Prince, the collective has been abuzz with sorrowful mourning over “great” celebrities who have died.

To be totally honest, I don’t know much about Ali, except for the very basics.  And while I did enjoy a few Prince songs, I was not an avid fan.  Though, in January of this year, a celebrity that I did greatly enjoy died — and that was David Bowie.  When news of his passing hit the internet, I found myself momentarily shocked and even saddened… but then I snapped back to reality.  A reality in which all of Bowie’s work could still be enjoyed.  I still have the music I so loved, and I can still watch the handful of movies he starred in that I really like.

In essence, I don’t identify with the personal tragedy of his loss of life — because who he was, as an everyday human, wasn’t a part of my personal reality.  His art was.  The art remains (a great thing about art, eh?).  And I am thankful for that.

What I’m seeing the trend becoming when a “great” dies (what is great anyway?) is this widespread over-identification with the personal tragedy of their death.  There were several people who legitimately mourned, as they would mourn if a close personal friend died, when Prince passed.  I’ve seen tributes and long diatribes about how much he would be missed, and how hard it was hitting those people, personally.  A quick scan across social media and online news outlets confirms that this is now the rule, and not the exception, in how people react to celebrity deaths.

The psychological implications, on a mass scale, are a touch concerning.  Yes, people like to identify with greatness.  When that greatness, which is subjectively defined by requirements of the society at large by the way, passes away and is gone, individuals can easily substitute those lost lives in for their own personal tragedies — that have either gone denied, repressed, or fragmented; spread across and divied up amongst different aspects of their psyche.  So when that useful mass tragedy occurs (in these instances, celebrity deaths), they can disperse the energies that have been long pent up inside of them and moreover, they have a reason to.  All the while, unaware that reason is reason enough and that their own personal lives should matter more to them than a person they never knew and never will know.

I believe it’s indicative of a mass ill in our society that we don’t know what it means to connect with our own tragedies.  I’m certainly not denying the significance or gravity of David Bowie dying… to his wife… or immediate family, or close friends.  A single tribute at most, to his art, should have served as ritual enough to commemorate his life as a talented musician.  Same with Prince.  And same with Ali.  Generally, these are known as funerals or memorials.  And while that is clearly not enough for the public, I would dare say let us now ask the question of why.

Besides, what is death?  I don’t mean this particular post to venture into the esoteric and symbolic questions of life and death, except to suggest that people begin to wonder… does it have more or less impact for a celebrated talent to die if they leave behind all manner of mementos of their time here, available for mass consumption on the whim of any person in the developed world?  What about the children the world over who die in deplorable conditions, every other minute?  What is left behind of them?  What is the value of a life?  Is gross over-identification with the deaths of celebrities symptomatic of belief systems built upon lies?  Built upon, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others?”

It’s time to ask these questions.  It’s time to face our own pains and losses with the reverence and attention they deserve.  And it may even be time to assess whether greatness is somewhere out there, or if it’s been right here all along.